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This must seem like the most stereotypically Canadian thing to do ever, but yes, we did it. We attended a Maple Syrup Festival! Justin and I spent a Sunday afternoon at Mountsberg Conservation Area in Campbellville, Ontario, and learned all about the production of maple syrup. Mountsberg is home to the 150-year old Mountsberg Sugar Bush where maple sap is still collected and used to produce syrup using historical and modern methods. Canada produces 80% of the world’s maple syrup supply with 91% of that supply coming from our neighboring province, Quebec. Maple syrup is also harvested in Ontario, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia. We are fortunate to live so close to such a unique harvest, especially when it is for something as sweet and tasty as maple syrup!
Justin and I wandered down a path through the Mounstberg Sugar Bush (a “sugar bush” is the term for a maple production farm). Sap is collected from the trees by tapping the trees. Trees are able to be tapped after they are 30-40 years old, supporting anywhere from 1-3 taps depending on the diameter of the tree trunks. We saw many trees with two taps and buckets on them, and also many with just one.
Sap being collected from maple tree
March is the ideal month for collecting maple syrup in our region. Maple trees depend on cold nights and warm days for the steady flow of maple sap. The ideal conditions for sap collection and syrup production are a few consecutive days with daytime highs of 5 degrees Celsius and nighttime lows of -5 C. Sap is not tapped at night because the temperature drop inhibits sap flow.
The average maple tree will produce 35-50 litres of sap per season. With the sun shining, yet the temperature remaining slightly above freezing with the snow still on the ground, these conditions were fantastic for maple syrup production, which we were able to see in action!
Inside the Sugar Shanty building, maple syrup was being produced from the sap using modern methods.
This diagram shows the basic production methods of making maple syrup from sap. It takes 40 litres of raw sap to produce 1 litre of pure maple syrup. As you can probably imagine, it takes a LOT of sap to make syrup! The production methods are little changed from colonial days, although some processes have been streamlined with modern equipment. Maple syrup is made by boiling the sap over an open fire. This must be properly monitored to ensure that the syrup contains an appropriate sugar content, without the sugar crystallizing or spoiling.
With this modern piece of machinery, we could see maple syrup being produced before our eyes! Also, back outdoors, maple syrup was being produced in traditional methods inside a giant cauldron over a burning fire. We didn’t stick around for very long to see the outdoor method as it was quite smoky, but regardless, it was pretty neat!
Maple syrup is great to use as an all-natural sweetener as it is unrefined, and retains all of the natural nutritional value from the sap of the maple tree. It has one of the lowest amounts of calories when compared to other sweeteners. It also contains several important vitamins and minerals, including manganese, riboflavin, calcium, zinc, and potassium. Maple syrup is very tasty to pour over your pancakes, and can also be used in place of sugar in some baking and cooking recipes.
Speaking of pancakes…
Mountsberg served pancakes with their own maple syrup at the Pancake House. While we didn’t eat any pancakes (we will prepare our own vegan pancakes at home with the maple syrup!), lots of people were devouring a delicious breakfast of pancakes and syrup. We were able to purchase maple syrup that was harvested right on site, and I got a maple candy lollipop made out of maple syrup! Yum!
Fun fact: Canadian maple syrup is exported to approximately 50 countries, including its primary importer, the USA. In 2007, Canada produced 67.6 million pounds of maple syrup yet exported 67.7 to the U.S. using reserve supply from previous years to support the growing exportation demand.
While this maple syrup festival in Ontario is now over for the season, there are plenty of other maple syrup festivals in Ontario that run well into April. For a full listing, check out the website of the Ontario Maple Syrup Producers Association. The fun at Mountsberg didn’t end at the Maple Syrup Festival – we also visited the Raptor Centre and Animals at Mountsberg.
Do you consume Canadian pure maple syrup? What types of food are unique to your country?